Interacting with other human beings is a difficult thing to do. Making eye contact for prolonged periods of time, holding conversation, listening and reacting appropriately… it is all pretty overwhelming. Believe it or not, most of us alcoholics are in the same boat when it comes to crippling social anxiety. In fact, a deep-seated fear of social interaction is why many of us begin drinking and drugging in the first place. We inherently feel different than our peers; we have a difficult time fitting in, and struggle to find our niche in the social kingdom (where jocks and cheerleaders rule, and even nerds seem to travel in packs). Eventually we are introduced to alcohol, and at once we are overcome by the warm and carefree feeling we had been fruitlessly searching for. Everything finally makes sense, and we are able to interact with confidence and ease. We have arrived.
Drinking = Social Acceptance
And then high school ends, and we eventually turn 21, and drinking rapidly transforms from a sloppy and perilous pastime to a sophisticated and totally legal adult activity. We stop shotgunning warm beers in the basement and begin tasting fine craft pints at fancy local breweries. We stop slapping the bag at sweat-drenched toga parties and start critiquing tannin at impressive french-inspired cafes. Perhaps our methods of imbibing have become slightly more cultured, but the reason behind our drinking most likely remains the same. We drink because we like the effect – we drink because alcohol provides us with the social lubricant we need in order to successfully intermingle. We drink because Tinder is a thing, and meeting a stranger for drinks (and preordained drunkenness) is a hell of a lot less intimidating then meeting for tea, crumpets, and forced, sober small talk.
But Wait… Are You Really Keeping it Classy?
Okay, so let us take a quick second to be honest with ourselves. Did we really trade in slipshod adolescent inebriation for classy adult indulgence? Or do we still drink to the point of black-out, wake up next to strangers on a regular basis, vomit more than is normal or expected, and vow daily that we will quit drinking forever? Do we limit our consumption to weekend romps with our friends, or do we drink cheap vodka with a straw every night as we Netflix and chill with our cats? Perhaps you have already admitted and accepted the fact that what once began as social drinking has morphed into an unmanageable physical and psychological dependency. Perhaps you have even sought help, and have a few weeks, months, or years of sobriety under your belt. Whether you are just testing the waters of sobriety or have been swimming sober laps for years, the issue of dating without the assistance of liquid courage has probably cropped up at least once or twice.
How does one do it? How does one meet a stranger for the first time without first downing half a dozen tequila shots? How? Oh, the horror. The horror!
No Dating for the First Year – An Unheeded Suggestion
Fortunately, we are instructed to forget dating altogether for the first year or so of our recovery. Very few of us actually heed this suggestion, but it at least provides us with a viable excuse to avoid any extraneous social interaction. Early in recovery, our sense of self-esteem and self-worth is probably so horribly shot that we have no trouble sleeping around – but when it comes to sitting down and holding a fully-clothed conversation, we face a serious issue. What do we say? Interested is interesting, but how do we know when we’ve asked too many questions? What do we order? Is it appropriate to talk about our past traumatic experiences? Our little alcoholic minds become consumed with ‘what-ifs’ and insecurities. We convince ourselves that we are inadequate in every way imaginable, and that we are going to die alone surrounded by screaming cats and yellowed newspapers. What? Yes. But the reality is, we had a lot more to worry about when we were pre-gaming our dates than we do now that our minds are clear. It is only scary and uncomfortable because we are unused to it. Change is always terrifying. And as socially handicapped and innately insane alcoholics, the idea of dating in sobriety is possibly the most horrifying change of all. But allowing something so temporarily uncomfortable to take or keep you out is pretty ridiculous (no offense). It is much easier and logical to just do it and get over it.
Benefits of Sober Dating
There are many amazing benefits to sober dating. Here are a few of them.
The idea of not sleeping with someone on the first day may seem pretty outlandish, but it is actually possible. And guess what? Exercising self-control is actually far more attractive than immediately giving into every animalistic desire.
Oh, and here’s another thing about not sleeping with your date as soon as you learn his or her name – he or she will inevitably respect you a heck of a lot more. In fact, while we may convince ourselves that recovery sets us apart from the rest and makes us weird and abnormal and unattractive, most people find sobriety extremely respectable. All of the insecurity and aberration is in your sick little head.
- The Return of the Elusive ‘Filter’
Remember the good old days, when after 3 cocktails you told your date that you had stalked her Facebook for months before asking her out, or that you had a hard time maintaining relationships because you suffered horrible sexual dysfunction ever since your mother passed? Over-sharing is unattractive, and waking up without regret over what you divulged is truly amazing.
Even if your first few sober dates do not go as planned, and your palms begin to sweat (God forbid), you are putting in practice so that dating in the future is not quite so scary. Every experience is a good one so long as we are open to learning from it.
- Expenses Saved
Drinks are insanely expensive, especially if you take your date to a relatively nice place (rather than, say, Applebee’s). And with your drinking habits, a couple of cheap beers will probably not cut it. Rather than spending an insane amount of your hard-earned cash on booze, splurge on an experience. Take your date to the zoo, or miniature golfing. There are better ways to spend your money than on six $12 mango mojitos.
- No Potential DUIs
It is not very classy to meet your date at a bar via Uber. Rather than risk a DUI while trying to come off as impressive and self-sufficient, why not kill two birds with one stone? Pick your date up and amaze her with your sweet whip while not potentially going to jail for vehicular manslaughter. Win-win!
When you do something that you are afraid of, you build self-esteem – however unintentionally. And as we all know, the only way to conquer fear is to walk straight through it. While dating in sobriety can be scary, you will likely come to find that it is not nearly as daunting as your overly active imagination lead you to believe. You will build quality self-esteem by overcoming your personal (and probably irrational) fears and by proving to yourself that you actually are a mildly fun and entertaining person, deserving of developing a relationship with someone who is not only in it for a quick lay.
If we are to truly live a fulfilled life of authentic and meaningful recovery, we must overcome all reservations and accept the fact that we will never be able to drink successfully. While we may be able to readily convince ourselves that we can sip one beer over the course of a Tinder date, we must also acknowledge that the inevitable embarrassment and inner turmoil that will follow that single beer is nowhere near worth a fleeting sense of ‘normalcy’. Sobriety does not make one unattractive or abnormal – in fact, quite the contrary. Take advantage of your newfound ability to see things clearly and discover who you truly are, what you want in a partner, and what you are actually deserving of. You’ve got this.